THE Republic's economic woes are no cause for unionist celebrations, a senior unionist minister has said.
Speaking during a debate in the Assembly about the Republic's 'bad bank' – the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) – DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said that Dublin's financial problems were bad for the Province.
NAMA, set up to take on the bad debts of Dublin banks, was initially feared to own up to 20 billion euros of property in Northern Ireland.
Although the Republic's government has now said that NAMA will only control about 4.8 billion euros of Northern Ireland assets, selling the property in a fire sale would dramatically hit Ulster property prices.
Sinn Fein yesterday tabled a motion calling on the First and Deputy First Ministers to raise the NAMA issue with the North-South Ministerial Council.
During the debate, several DUP speakers highlighted the Republic's economic problems.
Stressing that Northern Ireland's economy was stronger as part of the UK than it would be in a united Ireland, Strangford DUP Assemblyman Simon Hamilton said: "The 'Celtic tiger', which was prancing around with not a degree of smugness, has been found to be drinking at the pool of toxic loans."
But Mr Wilson said that extreme problems with Dublin's finances were bad news for the Province.
He said: "It is in none of our interests to have the economy of the Republic in a weak state. It is not something I believe we wish to see happen."
Mr Wilson admitted that his preference would have been to have a Northern Ireland representative on the NAMA board, but said that having a representative on the NAMA advisory group was better than having no formal input.
Rejecting Sinn Fein's preference for the North-South Ministerial Council to look at the issue, Mr Wilson said that the body had itself agreed that NAMA was not an issue for it but rather for he and his southern counterpart, Brian Lenihan.
Mr Wilson said that his meeting two weeks ago with Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had been frank: "He talked straight to me; I talked straight to him on the issue."
Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said that problems south of the border could not be ignored in the Province.
He said: "If their economy is in trouble, our economy is in trouble.
"You can't close your eyes and ears and hope that NAMA will go away.
"Even from a unionist perspective you have to get your head round the implications of NAMA and what it will do to this economy."
But SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell accused Sinn Fein of being "yet again... completely out of touch" on the economy.
Alliance MLA Sean Neeson said: "When the boom was forging ahead there was considerable investment by southern developers in Northern Ireland" and said that had been a key part of the Province's economy.
The Assembly voted to reject the Sinn Fein motion.